Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Out-of-state tree removal companies: ‘They see dollar signs.’

After Hurricane Florence, out-of-state companies have been charging double or triple the going rate, according to some local companies and residents.

Curtis Dansby from Alpha-1 Tree and Crane Company out of Atlanta, Texas cuts a tree from a house on Wrightsville Avenue. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Curtis Dansby from Alpha-1 Tree and Crane Company out of Atlanta, Texas cuts a tree from a house on Wrightsville Avenue. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — As residents continue to clear their properties in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, there have been complaints of widespread price gouging from tree removal companies — especially those coming into the area from outside North Carolina.

“There’s a reason people come in from Florida, Virginia, and Tennessee,” BB&T Family Risk Manager Lee McLean said. “It’s not because they don’t have business in those areas, it’s just that they know they can make more in this area doing the same thing.”

McLean also urged residents to compare multiple estimates, to ask the companies if they are insured for employee injuries on the job, and to collect all invoices and receipts.

Although wind and hail insurance covers the removal of a tree that caused damage to a house, fence, or shed, McLean said that such insurance will not cover a fallen tree that did no structural damage on the property. He also said that hurricane-related costs will result in insurance companies “looking at the premiums and evaluating their exposure” in areas along the Carolina coast.

RELATED: Port City Proud cutting trees free of charge amid complaints of price gouging

“Living in Florida you deal with a lot of hurricanes and the damage from hurricanes,” Todd DeGroat of Florida-based HER Outdoors said. “But the problem is, you see all these guys who feast off this stuff. They come in and ruin people’s insurance. They see dollar signs — it’s like a rat seeing a mousetrap.”

DeGroat said he believes that his current mission is to protect clients from the unfair practices he has seen from his out-of-town peers. After driving up I-40 through the storm, he has cut trees across Wilmington, Hampstead, Topsail Island, and Jacksonville.

I met a guy the other day who was charged $11,000 for 11 trees — average size, 30-foot tall trees,” DeGroat said. “I can do 11 trees in Florida right now for about $3,500 to $5,500.”

When Sharon Griffith from Hampstead was referred to Florida-based Canary Tree Service to quote a removal of two trees — each approximately 60 feet tall and two feet in diameter — leaning in her backyard, she was surprised by the $4,500 estimate she later received.

“You know, it seemed like a lot of money, but we haven’t had much experience with tree services here before,” Griffith said. “They said they’d need a crane and we knew that was really costly, so we said, ‘Well okay, go ahead.’ We thought we were agreeing to a fair price.”

But Canary didn’t use a crane, and Griffith’s neighbors, receiving estimates from Canary as well as local companies, ultimately agreed to quotes at a fraction of Canary’s price.

“[Houses like ours] with a few trees down for more like $500 to $600,” Griffith said. “I’ve put in a complaint to the NC Attorney General’s office, but I doubt they’ll do anything.”

Official complaints

“Charging too much during a crisis is against the law,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said on Thursday. “My office takes complaints related to price gouging very seriously, and we are currently reviewing the more than 700 complaints we’ve received from all over the state.”

A fallen tree in Carolina Place days after Hurricane Florence made landfall. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A fallen tree in Carolina Place days after Hurricane Florence made landfall. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Stein’s office reported 57 complaints of price gouging from New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties.

Terry Daniels of Wilmington-based Seagate Tree Service said that although customers should expect higher prices for trees that had fallen on houses and other structures due to the hazardous nature of the work — Seagate employees have fallen through roofs in the past, he said — the prices he has heard around town were troubling, especially those from out-of-towners.

“I’ve heard of a company charging $100,000 for one tree, a company from Texas,” Daniels said. “We try to encourage locals to go with local companies. We gotta live in this town and deal with these people after the storm’s over.”

DeGroat observed that most of the companies charging exorbitant prices were smaller companies: larger outfits have set prices and must worry about their reputations across larger regions, he said.

“But these small guys, they got insurance adjustors in their back pockets,” DeGroat said. “Anything that causes devastation to a home, whether it be natural damage, tree damage, roof damage, it’s like hitting jackpot for tree companies.”

Compared to hurricane-hardened Floridians, DeGroat noted, the people of the Wilmington have been frequently manipulated by such companies.

“One thing I’ve learned while being here: people up here, older residents, retired families, are very easily taken advantage of,” DeGroat said.


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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